A Normal Christian Church?
George Whitfield the famous 18th Century Evangelist often affirmed that he would rather have a church with 10 men in it who are right with God than one with 500 at whom the world would laugh up its sleeve. David Livingstone that great African Missionary said; “Nothing will induce me to form an impure church, 50 added to the church sounds well at home, but if only 5 are genuine what will it profit in the great day. What do we mean by the Normal Christian Church? What should it be like? How would you recognise a Normal Christian church? Many make the mistake of equating the “Normal Christian Church” with the “Average Christian Church.” These topical studies from the book of Acts are not designed to give us a full-proof formula for instant success in the life and ministry of the local church but to enable us to see how the Word of God describes the Normal Christian Church.
“Get the right programme?”
Today there are many church leaders who think that they have to come up with the right formula or get the right programme in order to bring people in. Many who are lamenting their dwindling congregations are privately “wringing their hands” and saying to themselves; “If only we had the right programme then we would have success.” Is this really true? Historically, whenever there has been a spiritual drought in the Church the tendency is for the leaders to find some plan or programme to solve their problem and in some way automatically expect the Holy Spirit to endorse their strategy for church growth. But is this really the way to go for the local church?
Do we plan things and then ask the Holy Spirit to endorse those plans? If we seek His guidance are we prepared to do whatever He tells us to do? The Book of Acts was designed by the Holy Spirit to give us guidance in these matters relating to the ongoing life and ministry within the local church. When seeking the Lord’s guidance we need to ask the question; “are we being obedient to the guidance He has already given us in His Word the Bible?” If we are not then we cannot expect any further guidance from Him.
The “Acts” of the Holy Spirit!
It was not easy for the early Church and at times there were problems from within, persecution and opposition from without. False teachers and false doctrines plagued the Church and had even the Apostles hard-pressed at times to stem the flow of doctrinal error and spiritual deception invading the Church. In the book of Acts we have an account of the Normal Christian Church in action. The Holy Spirit did not give us the book of Acts merely to give us a record of what the early Church did but He gave it as a blueprint for the Church in every age. When we speak of “The Acts of the Apostles” we could also say it is a record of “The Acts of the Holy Spirit.” The Ministry of the Lord Jesus would continue to be expressed through His body corporately, the faithful Church. What we see in the Book of Acts is God’s plan of action for the local Church wherever it may be located. In these four studies we will look at four key features that would describe the Normal Christian Church Biblically speaking. We will now look at the first mark of the Normal Christian Church.
They were a Spirit-Filled Church
“And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:4a) The disciples had spent three and a half years with the Lord Jesus. They had been witnesses to His life, His miracles, His words, His death and especially His resurrection. They had received the Great Commission to go into the entire world to preach the gospel and to make disciples of all nations. They had been trained in the best Bible school ever by the master of all Bible teachers and had received excellent “on the job” training. They felt the urge to go and to do what He said. They had been born again by the Spirit of God. Jesus Himself personally had breathed the Spirit of His resurrection Life into them. They were saved and regenerated men! (John 20:22)
However, he also told them to wait in the city until they had been “Endued with Power from on High!” They would need more than their theological training, they would need supernatural power to fulfil the Great commission that lay before them. The Lord Jesus, The Baptiser with the Holy Spirit would pour out His Spirit upon them and only then would they be ready to do the work He had assigned to them. Without the power of the Holy Spirit resting upon them they would be like soldiers enlisted into the ranks of Lord’s army but without armour and weapons to fight the battle! On the Day of Pentecost, the day when Israel celebrated the ingathering of the harvest, the power of the Holy Spirit fell upon a 120 men and women imparting to them supernatural power to witness and to work for Christ! They were now armed and ready to go to war with the world, the flesh and the Devil.
A. They were Baptised with the Holy Spirit as groups:
(Acts 2: 1-6) “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.”
In Acts chapter 1:8 the Lord Jesus told them that they would receive power to be His witnesses; “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). In the Bible in both Testaments whenever you see men and women filled with the Holy Spirit it was always connected to witnessing and service. When men were filled with the Holy Spirit they were empowered for testimony and service or for specific tasks.
This is the purpose of being baptised with or filled with the Holy Spirit. It is one thing to be indwelt by the Spirit and every true born again believer has the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 8:9-11) Without the Holy Spirit dwelling in us we cannot be saved! It is quite another thing to be baptised and filled with and empowered by the Holy Spirit. This was what the 120 needed on the Day of Pentecost. After the Holy Spirit had been poured out they witnessed with supernatural power and 3,000 were saved in a single day! What a revival meeting they had that day!
Today there are many fellowships that have sound Biblical doctrine and teaching and feel the need to fulfil the Great Commission but realise that they need supernatural power to complete the task. Many ministers and Church leaders see their church congregations growing smaller and smaller and no souls being regularly saved and they really do not know what to do. Preachers have well-crafted sermons but know deep down on the inside that their words lack spiritual power! At such times of spiritual drought the leaders often revert to Church growth programmes of one sort or another but even these do not see much lasting success if any.
The 120 believers did not attempt to do anything until they had received what Jesus had promised. They waited before the Lord in prayer until the promised power came down upon them corporately. We read where; “These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers” (Acts 1:14). They were of one mind; they were not sitting around eating biscuits drinking coffee. They were serious about their commission from the Lord. Not only were the believers in Jerusalem initially Baptised with the Holy Spirit but were also refilled with the Spirit again later on. This time they were being persecuted.
Notice how they prayed. “And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence, while You extend Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy servant Jesus.” And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:29-31).
In these verses we are told that they were filled with the Spirit again. Peter was also among them. For every new avenue of service, for every new person we are going to witness to, for every new task we are to undertake for the Lord and for the kingdom of God we must make sure we are filled with the power of the Holy Spirit otherwise we will not succeed in the spiritual life as individuals or corporately as a fellowship.
Following this new infilling with the Spirit they were united in mind and heart and knew exactly what they should say and do. It took effort in prayer and waiting on the Lord by the 120 in the upper room but in the end the Lord saw their persistence and poured out His Spirit upon them with great power! We may well be initially Baptised with the Holy Spirit but we must stay filled or “topped up” as it were. The plane in the air only flies and goes against gravity if the fuel switch is on otherwise it will crash. Faith and persistence is “the spiritual fuel switch” for the power of God. When faith and persistence subside inevitably there will always be “a loss of power.”
(Acts 8:14-17) “Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For He had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they began laying their hands on them, and they were receiving the Holy Spirit”.
Phillip the evangelist had been down in Samaria preaching the Word of God. Souls had been saved, demons had left bodies and many signs and wonders had followed the preaching of the Word. Those who were saved were also baptised by Phillip. There was much joy in that city. There is no doubt they were saved men and women and that the Holy Spirit had come to dwell in them personally. The text itself clearly tells us this. They had “received the Word of God” having been “born again by imperishable seed through the living and abiding Word of God.” The Glory of God had visited the Samaritans, a race despised by the Jewish people at that time. Even though they were saved and indwelt by the Holy Spirit and born again by the same Spirit they still needed to be baptised with the Holy Spirit which happened when the Apostles came down from Jerusalem and laid hands on them and prayed for that to happen to them. As the apostles were praying over them they were all baptised with the Holy Spirit!
3. The Gentiles:
(Acts 10:44-47) “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. All the circumcised believers who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God. Then Peter answered, “Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?” And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Yeshua Mashiach”.
In verse two of this chapter we are told that Cornelius was a devout man, an earnest seeker after God who knew nothing about the Salvation available in Jesus. He certainly did not know anything about the power of the Holy Spirit in his life. He was sincere and had a genuine faith in God but needed to come into that personal relationship with God only available through Jesus and by the power of His Spirit. In this case concerning the Gentiles at the household of Cornelius they were all saved and baptised with the Holy Spirit simultaneously at the same time. After that they were baptised by immersion.
4. The Ephesian Disciples:
(Acts 19: 1-7) “It happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the upper country and came to Ephesus, and found some disciples. He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said to him, “No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.” (Or whether the Holy Spirit was given) And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” And they said, “Into John’s baptism.” Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Yeshua.” When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Yeshua. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying. There were in all about twelve men.”
These disciples from Ephesus undoubtedly were believers. Previously Apollos had been at Ephesus preaching accurately about the Lord Jesus but only knowing for himself the baptism of John. Priscilla and Aquila had to fill him in on what had happened from Pentecost. These 12 men were called disciples. They were undoubtedly saved but had never been baptised with the Holy Spirit. Of course once Paul had prayed over them they knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that they had received the Spirit’s power.
There was nothing vague or indefinite about this experience. They knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that they had been baptised with the Holy Spirit. It was a definite spiritual experience for these 12 disciples. As in the case of the Jewish believers at Pentecost and for the Gentile believers they all spoke in tongues and in the instance of these Ephesian disciples they prophesied!
B. They were filled with the Spirit as individuals:
1. Stephen was filled with the Holy Spirit.
(Acts 6:5,8) “…and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit… And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people…(Acts7:54-56 ) “Now when they heard this, they were cut to the quick, and they began gnashing their teeth at him. But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; and he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
Firstly; he was filled with the Spirit in the fellowship; The statement found approval with the whole congregation; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit… And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people…
Secondly; He was filled with the Spirit before the Sanhedrin; “Now when they heard this, they were cut to the quick, and they began gnashing their teeth at him. But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Yeshua standing at the right hand of God; and he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
Stephen we are told was “a man filled with faith and with the Holy Spirit.” Even though he powerfully confounded the religious leaders through his preaching His task was a very humble one which was to hand out bread to the widows in the fellowship yet he and the other six men appointed for this task had to be filled with the Holy Spirit to do even this humble work. No matter what we do in the Body of the Messiah we must make sure we are filled with the Holy Spirit.
If we are not filled with the Holy Spirit then the Lord Jesus is dishonoured and the Work of God hindered. Stephen was not an ordained man as such or a theological graduate from Bible College. He was a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit and a powerful preacher and prophet as well! He knew his Bible! He understood that “The sword of the Spirit is the Word of God.” Just as he needed to be filled with the Spirit to live so he needed to be filled with the Spirit at his death. He lived and he died full of the Holy Spirit. As they were stoning him he fell asleep in Jesus!
2. The Apostle Paul was filled with the Holy Spirit.
(Acts 9: 17-18) “So Ananias departed and entered the house, and after laying his hands on him said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road by which you were coming, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he regained his sight, and he got up and was baptized;”
Paul had encountered his Risen Messiah on the road to Damascus and was blinded temporarily. He was like that for three days and then Ananias came down to the house where Paul was praying and laid hands on him and prayed over him that he might receive his sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit. After that encounter with the power of the Holy Spirit we read concerning Paul; “And immediately he began to proclaim Yeshua in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” All those hearing him continued to be amazed, and were saying, “Is this not he who in Jerusalem destroyed those who called on this name, and who had come here for the purpose of bringing them bound before the chief priests?” But Saul kept increasing in strength and confounding the Jews who lived at Damascus by proving that this Yeshua is the Messiah” (20-22).
Once again we see that when a person is baptised or filled with the Holy Spirit their witness and testimony will have supernatural power to move the hearts and minds of people. The Baptism of the Holy Spirit is always connected to witnessing and service for Jesus. In all of these cases the one common factor was that those who were filled had boldness and conviction in their testimony to Jesus and witnessed powerfully to His resurrection from the dead. After all this is exactly what the Lord Jesus Himself said; “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
3. Peter was Re-filled with the Holy Spirit.
(Acts4:8) “Then Peter filled with the Holy Spirit said to them…” Peter and John had been hauled before the religious legalists, the so called ’college of Cardinals’ and they were being harangued concerning the miraculous things that had been happening in Jerusalem Yet we find Peter filled with the Holy Spirit once again and boldly testifying about Jesus and His power to save and to heal. The power and presence of the Lord Jesus in Peter and John was clearly seen by the religious leaders. “Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus” (8: 13)
Not only did they recognise that these ‘untrained’ men had been followers of Yeshua but also saw the presence and likeness of the Lord Jesus in them. Furthermore they could not deny the healing that had taken place. They tried to shut them up by threatening them but it was fruitless. When the Holy Spirit fills a man or a woman they will have boldness and confidence, not in themselves of course, but in the strength and might of the blessed Holy Spirit especially in the face of opposition. This was the pattern of all those filled with the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts. This will be the pattern of anyone who is filled with the Holy Spirit.
C. Other well-known men in Church history were Baptised with the Holy Spirit after they had been saved and regenerated by the Holy Spirit.
1. CT Stud:
The founder of the great missionary movement the Worldwide Evangelisation Crusade knew he needed supernatural power to do God’s work. He was already a missionary and an able preacher and teacher but knew that he lacked spiritual power in his ministry. He went into a Forrest one day and sat down under a tree and said to the Lord that he was not leaving until he had been baptised with the Holy Spirit. Of course the Lord Jesus saw his persistence and granted his desire. From that moment his ministry became very effective and powerful.
2. George Whitfield:
He was baptised with the Holy Spirit at his ordination. Previously he had already been saved and had publically testified to his salvation. On the next Sunday after his ordination his first sermon was delivered to an immense audience in his old home church at Gloucester. Afterwards a complaint was made to the Bishop that 15 people were driven mad by this sermon. The good Bishop replied that he hoped that madness would not be forgotten before the next Sunday. After that sermon he preached with great power and conviction and saw thousands upon thousands saved!
3. Charles Finney:
In his own words; “I received a mighty Baptism of the Holy Ghost. Without any expectation of it, without ever having the thought in my mind that there was any such thing for me, without any recollection that I had ever heard the thing mentioned by any person in the world. The Holy Ghost descended on me in a manner that seemed to go through me, body and soul. I could feel the impression, like a wave of electricity, going through and through me. Indeed it seemed to come in waves and waves of liquid love; for I could not express it in any other way. It seemed like the very breath of God. I can recollect distinctly that it seemed to fan me, like immense wings. No words can express the wonderful love that was shed abroad in my heart. I wept aloud with joy and love; and I do not know but I should say, I literally bellowed out the unutterable gushings of my heart. The waves came over me, and over me, one after the other, until I recollect I cried out, ‘I shall die if these waves continue to pass over me.’ I said, ‘Lord I cannot bear any more; yet I had no fear of death.”
He was already in the ministry and seeing results to a great degree but still sensing deep in his heart his need for spiritual power. In his own words; “I was crying all the time that God would fill me with His Spirit. Well one day, in the city of New York-oh, what a day!-I cannot describe it, I seldom refer to it; it is almost too sacred and experience to name. Paul had an experience of which he never spoke of for fourteen years. I can only say that God revealed Himself to me, and I had such an experience of His love that I had to ask Him to stay His hand. I went to preaching again. The sermons were not different; I did not present any new truths; and yet hundreds were converted. I would not now be placed back where I was before that blessed experience if you should give me all the world-it would be as the small dust of the balance.” The anointing of the Spirit which he received while walking along the streets of New York set his soul on fire in such a way that his work soon became a worldwide one.
There are multitudes of Christians today, who love God, love His word and who serve Him faithfully in their respective fellowships. They are great saints and busy in the work of the Lord yet sense a lack of spiritual power. It is not that these dear saints are second class Christians or unspiritual. Many believers only think that being baptised and filled with the Holy Spirit is for preachers, full-time workers and missionaries only but fail to realise that the power of the Holy Spirit for testimony and service is for every believer in every age. Whether it is a mother of children, or a factory worker or a university student or an office worker they can be filled up with the power of God.
The Lord Jesus is no respecter of persons but He is a respecter of faith. After Peter and the other 120 had been endued with power from on high Peter clearly announced that the power of the Holy Spirit was available to all who repent and believe in Jesus for Salvation. As Peter said; “For the promise (the Promise of the Father, namely the power of the Holy Spirit) is for you (the Jews present) and your children (Their children) and for all who are far off, (The Gentiles) as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself (every believer in every age).”(Acts 2:39)
There is a difference between the Spirit indwelling and the Spirit outpoured. It is one thing to be saved and born again by the Spirit and something else to be baptised and filled with the Holy Spirit. The normal experience is that we should repent, believe and be filled with the Spirit all together at once but scripture and history clearly show that many were saved and born again by the Spirit yet some time later were filled with the Holy Spirit and from that time onwards had power in testimony and in their service for the Lord.
Once we have been initially baptised with the Holy Spirit we need to be continuously filled and controlled by the Holy Spirit moment by moment. This is commanded in Ephesians 5:18. If we are not filled with the Spirit then God is not glorified and the work of God hindered. May all of us take to heart the admonition from the Lord; “Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit says the Lord.”
P.S: In the New Testament the terms “Baptised with the Holy Spirit,” “received the Holy Spirit,” “the Gift of the Holy Spirit,” “the Holy Spirit fell on them,” “Endued with power from on high,” “the Promise of the Father,” and “filled with the Spirit” are all describing the one and the same experience namely “The baptism with the Holy Spirit.” The baptism with the Holy Spirit is the initial infilling of the Spirit followed by many fillings. (Ephesians 5:18)
In dealing with the Baptism with the Holy Spirit we are not primarily dealing with His work of regeneration but His work of empowering the believer in Jesus for testimony and service. In the case of the Gentiles at the household of Cornelius they were all saved and baptised with the Holy Spirit simultaneously, however, in the case of the 120 at Pentecost, the Samaritans and with the Ephesian disciples they were regenerated by the Spirit and later baptised with the Holy Spirit.
Normally when a person repents and believes in Jesus for salvation they can also receive the baptism with the Holy Spirit and Peter tells us this in Acts 2:38-39. However, in the New Testament and down through the long history of the Church there have been many men and women who will clearly testify that they were indwelt by the Holy Spirit when they were saved but at some later stage in their walk with the Lord were baptised with the Holy Spirit.
It was just as definite an experience for them as it was for them when they were first saved and born again. There is nothing vague or indefinite about this experience. The Baptism with the Holy Spirit is a definite experience that a person knows whether they have received or not!
As to the tongues not all of them spoke in tongues. In Samaria there is no mention of tongues, neither is there any mention that when Paul was first filled with the Spirit that he spoke in tongues as a result. We know he did later on but not when he was first filled with the Spirit.
Tongues are a gift of the Spirit and one of many. One thing to always keep in mind is that the Holy Spirit is sovereign and determines and distributes His gifts according to his infinitely wise and divine will and not according to our wills.